|Getting punchy with Chairman's Reserve Rum - photo by Wasabi Prime|
I was very pleased to attend an Eastside Bartenders Association (EBA) gathering on a sunny Sunday, over at Milagro Cantina in Kirkland. It was a rum tasting event, spotlighting three Chairman's Reserve Rums from St. Lucia Distillers in the Caribbean. I openly admit I'm normally not a rum drinker. Much like my trial-by-fire initiation(s) with tequila many moons ago, I think we've all had our share of Epic Regret with lousy cheap liquor, but thankfully it only takes one really good experience to rehabilitate a relationship with a particular spirit. With the cocktail-smart folks behind the EBA organizing these events, it's like liver therapy, mending old wounds with an evil past and learning to love again with a liquor that will love you back and say you look pretty.
The Chairman's Reserve tasting was presented by the honorable Rocky Yeh of Cooper and Sons, a spirits brokerage company that focuses on distinctive, well-made liquor. He did a fantastic job of presenting the past and present of rum, going through its history as one of the oldest spirits that literally built empires, weaving a complex past that included the boon of the sugarcane industry, military might, economic development, slavery and piracy. Made with molasses, a byproduct of sugarcane, rum was a commodity, highly valued and enjoyed throughout history, paired well with tunes that start off with, "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of..." The term "proof" was derived through the rum-soaked days of the Royal Navy, where the percentage of alcohol needed to be high enough to where if it spilled on a ship's supply of gunpowder (occupational hazard, no?), it could still successfully light. No one wants to lose a seafaring battle because some dope couldn't keep their liquor upright. And to ensure the strength of the rum was sound, as well as to test whether or not a distiller was watering-down the batches, a bit of gunpowder was soaked and lit as "proof" the rum was enough to get both the cannons and the sailors properly lit.
|A trio of rums presented by Rocky Yeh - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
As to the present-day status of rum, it's less about strongarming an empire and more about just enjoying the flavor. Unlike those annoying pirate movies (OK, Depp's the only thing good about those), one of the best things to come out of the Caribbean is Chairman's Reserve Rum. Three different styles were sampled during the EBA event (silver, aged and spiced), and then mixed into cocktails to show how they make darn fine frosty beverages. Overall, the rum has a rich, true flavor -- you get a nice oak flavor from the aged rum, and the spiced rum is good enough to just enjoy on its own, like a Scotch. Leave it to Cocktail-Whisperer Mark Sexauer of Milagro Cantina to rehabilitate my relationship with rum the same way he did with tequila; he mixed up a couple of drinks using Chairman's, including a daquiri and a rum punch. Both are classic uses for rum, but I think they're also the most notable offenders for drinks that wind up getting you crunked off your face. And not in a good way. A true daquiri -- not the slushy 7-11 drink -- is simply made with a lot of fresh lime juice, sugar, and a good silver rum, served ice-cold. The cocktail that won raves was Mark's rum punch, made with the aged Chairman's and a mix of citrus and fresh pineapple. He was very kind to share the recipe via Sharpie marker on an old receipt. It kind of felt like getting a pirate treasure map. No pegleg or eyepatch required. Yarrrr.
|Mixologist Mark and rum with snacks at Milagro Cantina - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
So the big test was to try and recreate the drink at home, or rather, a friend's home. I met up with my cocktail-mateys, Miss SJBe and Miss Shutterbug, convening in SJBe's kitchen to punch up some rum. We used the aged rum, per Mark's original mix. The Chairman's silver rum is nice, but the light flavor would likely be lost in the fruit-forward mix, and the spiced rum would probably clash with the fruit -- the five year-aged Chairman's is like the porridge that's just right. Drink up, Goldilocks.
I'm absolutely not a bartender, nor would I consider myself any good at mixing drinks, but from what little trials and Kraken-unleashing times I've had in my own kitchen, I hazard this little bit of experience: mixing drinks is a bit like cooking. I say "cooking," not "baking," because I realize baking more or less needs to be fairly exact with measurements, but cooking you can push-pull flavors, spices and ingredients on the fly to balance out a dish. The same could be said with cocktails. Too much sweet? Balance it with something sour or bitter, and vice-versa. Too much liquor? Well, make it a bigger batch or be ready to not get behind the wheel anytime soon. With the exception of bad liquor, most drinks can be repaired and rebalanced. Rum punches are deliciously basic, as it's just rum with a mixture of sweet and sour fruit, plus a few dashes of bitters, but with the caviat that all fruits are not made equal, so it's good to taste the fruit as you go. Sometimes you get a candy-sweet orange, so you can lighten up on the adding of sugar. And sometimes you get pineapple that's just too acidic and not enough richness of flavor, so go ahead and mix in some sugar to heighten the flavor. I had to do that in this case, sprinkle the pineapple with a little extra sugar, plus hand-crush to extract as much of the flavor as possible, since we didn't let the mix sit for a while to really let the flavors develop. We went a little lighter on the pineapple, so the final color was more reddish from the pomegranate juice, but no harm in a berry-hued rum punch.
|Treasure map to Rum Punch Island - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
The final recreation of Mark's rum punch went as follows -- I went a little lighter on the rum, just because it was Sunday and a "school night." This is a little more sweet; if you want to control the sugar, mix the fruit juices and rum, and then add sugar to taste as the last ingredient.
2 cups of aged Chairman's Reserve rum
1.25 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 cup crushed fresh pineapple, with juice - add sugar to taste if fruit is particularly sour or acidic
1 cup pomegranate juice
.5 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
5 splashes of Angostura bitters
2/3 cup of sugar
Mix all ingredients in a large pitcher or bowl and use a large block of ice to keep the mixture super-chilled. Mark recommended freezing water in a mold, like a bunt cake ring, and using that to keep the punch chilled. If you want to be geeky with the ice, run the water through a filter and then bring to a boil on the stove. Let water cool enough to pour into the mold and freeze, if you want to try to have clear ice. I have yet to get totally crystal-clear ice using this method, but it's likely because our freezer is just too cold. No matter, the punch is still damn tasty.